G8 backs urgent Syria peace talks in Geneva

Media caption,
David Cameron: "We all share a vital interest in bringing this conflict to an end"

G8 leaders meeting in Northern Ireland have backed calls for Syrian peace talks to be held in Geneva "as soon as possible".

After adopting a statement, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the leaders had managed "to overcome fundamental differences".

But no timetable for the Geneva talks was given.

The statement does not mention what role Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could play in the future.

Media caption,
Vladimir Putin: "Russia and the US...will be in charge of preparing the underlying principles of the settlement"

Russia is backing President Assad, while the US and its European allies are supporting the rebels.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Kremlin insisted that each of the Syrian sides at the Geneva talks should be able to select their own delegations, sidestepping questions about whether this could leave open a role for Mr Assad.

The communique is largely a reaffirmation of what was said at the Geneva Conference in June 2012, reports the BBC's Jonathan Marcus at the summit in Enniskillen.

'Sending signal'

The G8 leaders agreed the joint statement on Syria after lengthy discussions at the end their two-day summit.

The seven-point document says that any future transitional government should be "formed by mutual consent".

It stresses that the leaders are united in wanting a negotiated and peaceful end to the conflict that will produce a government "under a top leadership that inspires public confidence."

However, both Russia and the West could interpret such phrasing as their diplomatic success at the summit, correspondents say.

The Kremlin refused to support any statement making Mr Assad's removal from power an explicit goal.

But speaking to reporters after the summit, President Putin said he did not feel "isolated" in Enniskillen despite clashing with other leaders.

At the same time, Mr Cameron pledged at a separate news conference "to learn the lessons from Iraq" by making sure key institutions of the state are maintained through any transition.

The prime minister said it was important to send a signal to the Syrian people that there would be a functioning state once Mr Assad was gone.

This could be seen as encouragement to the Assad supporters perhaps to begin thinking about a future without him, says our correspondent.

The joint statement also condemns "any use of chemical weapons in Syria" and urges both Damascus and the rebels at the Geneva conference "to commit to destroying and expelling from Syria all organisations and individuals affiliated to al-Qaeda and any other non-state actors linked to terrorism".

On the humanitarian front, the G8 leaders agreed to provide nearly $1.5bn (£960m) in new funds to help people affected by the raging conflict.

More than 4.25 million people have been displaced since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.

More than 90,000 people have been killed, according to UN estimates.

In Enniskillen, the leaders also signed a declaration committing themselves to "fight the scourge of tax evasion" and promote free trade.